Sat, 01 Oct 2022

Media recall problematic ROTC history

CMFR
06 Aug 2022, 16:13 GMT+10

IN HIS first State of the Nation Address, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged Congress to restore the mandatory Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program for senior high school students. Marcos argued that ROTC builds the youth's disaster response preparedness.

Vice President Sara Duterte had earlier urged the return of compulsory ROTC. In January 2022, she told the media she hoped for the program's return via legislation. Marcos and Duterte are continuing the past administration's efforts; as far back as 2016, former president Rodrigo Duterte had listed mandatory ROTC among his priority bills.

CMFR reviewed coverage of Marcos' proposal from July 25, the day of the SONA, to August 1. Notable media reports correctly recalled the mandatory ROTC program's problematic history; reports by Philstar.com, ABS-CBN, and Davao Today underlined the circumstances surrounding the passage of Republic Act (RA) 9163, or the National Service Training Act of 2001, which followed the murder of Mark Welson Chua, a University of Santo Tomas student.

ROTC reform follows cadet's death

Chua's killing provoked a public clamor for ROTC reform.

In February 2001, Chua recounted corrupt practices within his unit in the student publication The Varsitarian. Chua and fellow Engineering sophomore Romulo Yumul had lodged a complaint with the Department of National Defense (DND), accusing officers of committing bribery and extortion. The resulting investigation led to the dismissal of a student commandant and other officials.

Chua went missing a month after the story's publication, apparently abducted. His father Welson reported that unidentified individuals had called their home, asking for a PHP3-M ransom. In March 2001, the 19-year-old Chua was found wrapped in carpet in the Pasig River.

In June that year, Thomasian student activists staged a national day of protest against ROTC, The Varsitarian reported. Nearly 800 students from neighboring universities slso staged walkouts in protest the following month.

Philstar.com recalled in a 2018 report the uproar following Chua's death, recording militant groups' protests and signature drives calling for the program's abolition. It noted in 2001 how student activists described ROTC as "irrelevant" and "anachronistic." Philstar.com quoted Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., who pointed out that, in the absence of an external threat, there is little need for a "focus" on military training.

At the time of Chua's death, the prevailing law was RA 7077, or the Citizen Armed Forces of the Philippines Reservist Act of 1991, which required students to earn 12 units under the ROTC program before being eligible to graduate. Specifically, Section 38 of RA 7077 required college students to undergo military training; Section 39 ordered the establishment of ROTC units in universities and other learning institutions. The law was passed in accordance with Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, which says that the government "may call upon the people to defend the State."

Then Education Secretary Raul Roco and Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff General Diomedio Villanueva backed the scrapping of compulsory ROTC, reported The Varsitarian. In July 2001, Cavite 1st District Representative Plaridel Abaya introduced a bill seeking to establish the National Service Training Program (NSTP).

Due to a "sense of urgency" in removing mandatory ROTC, it took only ten months before a law was enacted, BusinessMirror reported. On January 23, 2002, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the NSTP Act of 2001, or RA 9163. The NSTP Act sought to promote "civic consciousness" among the youth, teach "patriotism," and "advance their involvement in public and civic affairs." Under the law, courses involving military service are optional; and students can undergo training in any of the following program components: Reserve Officer Training Corps, Literacy Training Service, or Civic Welfare Training Service.

Section 14 of the new law set aside completion of ROTC as a "requisite for graduation."

Media underscore critical views

The proposed revival of compulsory ROTC has met considerable opposition. Media, in addition to ROTC's troubling past, reported issues raised by dissenting advocates and groups.

Children's welfare

ABS-CBN and The Freeman featured concerns over the potential violation of children's rights. In a July 26 TV Patrol report, security analyst Chester Cabalza said that compelling minors to undergo military training violates international law protecting children, referring to the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. On July 28, The Freeman interviewed Child Rights Network (CRN) convenor Romeo Dongeto, who said that a "militarist" school course causes the development of "risk behaviors" in children, leading to "adverse and negative experiences."

Student, progressive groups' concerns

  • On July 25, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) spokesperson Kej Andres told CNN Philippines that mandatory ROTC risks harming children. Andres cited the numerous hazing injuries and deaths linked to the program.
  • In a TeleRadyo interview also on July 25, former Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate argued that the current NSTP Act is "functioning;" he urged government to consider teaching nationalism and volunteerism through a non-militaristic approach.
  • The same day, Rappler reported on SONA reactions online, quoting one student leader who described how a "culture of impunity, violence, and blind obedience" could arise from required ROTC.
  • Kabataan Partylist Representative Raoul Manuel, in a live July 27 interview with One PH, expressed criticism of Marcos' proposal. Manuel pointed out that despite government's advocating full face-to-face classes, President Marcos did not include a substantial education measure other than mandatory ROTC in his priority agenda.

Manuel was also featured in a July 31 AlterMidya report; the lawmaker argued for the reinstatement of Philippine history in high school over the ROTC proposal. Such a measure would prove more effective in encouraging civic consciousness, Manuel argued.

  • Gabriela Youth spokesperson Shayne Ganal viewed ROTC as promoting violence, impunity, and misogyny, Manila Bulletin noted on August 1. Ganal implored government to instead prioritize the safety of students and teachers upon their return to face to face learning.
  • ABS-CBN and GMA News reported the August 1 statement of the No To Mandatory ROTC Network, which urged the increase in the education budget and "retrofitting of schools towards the safe resumption of classes" over ROTC's restoration. The network is composed of students, teachers, and child rights advocates.

Amplifying support

BusinessWorld, Inquirer.net, PressOne, GMA News, and the Manila Times reported the results of a PulseAsia survey of 1,200 respondents, which indicated public support for the return of compulsory ROTC. The poll was commissioned by Senator Win Gatchalian, who is advocating the return of the program himself.

Some outlets also amplified government officials' and agencies' approval.

Inquirer.net highlighted the Philippine Army's backing of the proposal; spokesperson Col. Xerxes Trinidad said the program would lead to the development of a "capable, committed and well-trained reserve force." Department of Education spokesman Michael Poa also described Marcos' call as adhering to "a core value of being nationalistic." National Youth Commission chair Ronald Cardema also welcomed ROTC restoration, promising to coordinate with lawmakers to produce the "best version" of a bill on the matter, Philstar.com noted. The Manila Bulletin underlined support from officials and agencies such as Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Jr., Senator Robin Padilla, and the Philippine National Police.

Why mandatory ROTC is being prioritized should be sufficiently explained by the media. Journalists need to ask for more than the generalities Marcos and company have used in justifying it.

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